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Alleviating Narration Issues

This post is an expansion on "Meanings and Perspectives of Narration".

Generally, children who dislike narration do so for reasons such as finding the act of narrating tedious, repetitive or difficult. Alleviating these narration issues are critical, because the child and teacher who have trouble with narration are not likely to continue with a Charlotte Mason style education, considering that it is such an essential and daily component of it. While I will address each of these reasons individually, in truth, they are very much interrelated. It may be helpful to look at narration more closely and delve into its particular components before attempting to pinpoint the possible problems that may arise from it. Consider that narration is actually the latter part of a larger lesson. The narration cannot take place without the reading upon which to narrate.

Here is the general order of a reading and narration lesson:

1. Prepare the Reading

2. Read

3. Narrate the Reading

4. Close the Reading

By recognizing that there are several components to this lesson, it is then easier to see in how many places issues may arise. The two most known components are the reading itself and the narration. Children may have issues which arise from either one of these areas, or both. Often problems begin on the reading side of a lesson, because the child cannot connect with the reading. On the other hand, troubles may begin on the narration side, after the reading. Solutions are easier at which to arrive when the issues are more specifically identified.

Solutions for Issues on Both Sides of a Narration

The Reading Side of the Issue

The reading selection is too difficult.


  • Change the reading for one to replace the original, keeping as much of the original purpose or topic as similar as possible, but that offers a different style, perspective or reading level.

  • Consider reading the selection aloud to students, letting students read aloud to you or share the reading together by taking turns. It is absolutely acceptable for high school students to handle advanced works in any of these ways. Remember, dramas such as Shakespeare and epic poetry would have been shared aloud anyway.

  • Reduce the reading selection length significantly. It can always be increased incrementally over time as each student becomes more successful. Be aware that epic poetry, older classic literature, advanced science and technical readings and other selections are dense and draw heavily on all skills needed for advanced reading; these types of selections are better in small doses, especially in the beginning.

The reading selection is not captivating enough.


  • Not every reading selection is always required. Students who have a particular distaste for it do not have to read it. It is often possible to substitute an equally worthy replacement. Be aware that it is possible that the lack of interest and attention in some choices may have more to do with each student's abilities in handling the reading level (see above), the reading length (see below) or may need their own skills in concentration strengthened (see below). In other words, it may not be the reading selection itself; it may be another problem disguised in this one.

The reading selection is too long.


  • Again, reduce the reading selection significantly; it an always be increased incrementally over time as students become more successful. A reduction in the reading selection can either be one which omits part of a reading, omits additional reading suggestions, breaks a large reading selection into smaller sections and reads them over the course of a week or several days or breaks a large reading into smaller sections, but is still read within the same reading session. Long selections can also be shared readings with the student reading a portion, narrating and then the teacher taking a turn and reading a potion.

The child struggles with giving and continuing attention.


  • Giving and continuing the attention needed for narrations may be difficult for young children, those who are new to this approach or those who need extra time adjusting to it. Practice in these skills, in shorter more focused sessions, will lend itself to more success, not only with narration but also most other skill work. It may be a good idea to make attention, gaining and sustaining it, a focal point, setting the general curriculum aside for a short time. For example, consider using fables such as Aesop's Fables for giving your student practice in listening carefully to a short but complete reading and then narrating what they can from the fable. Remember, it is important to read the fable only once and to not use leading or prompting questions. Let your student child only tell what they can and use questions such as "Is there anything else you would like to tell me about the fable?" if you feel the narration was not complete enough.

  • This particular issue involves the development and support of the habit of attention. You may wish to read the post here titled "The Habit of Attention".

The preparation before the reading was missing or inadequate.


  • Preparing a reading, an important part of a Charlotte Mason narration, includes many or all of the following: unknown words are clearly pronounced and meanings defined where needed; unique or important locations are found on a map or globe; background or essential historical reference knowledge is briefly introduced or reviewed and a quick connection is made between the last reading, but before beginning the present reading. This particular component to the CM narration is often neglected, including not being addressed by many books, blogs and websites who purport to follow her teaching methods.

  • A reading preparation that was either missing or was only partially included will lead to problems in both the reading side and the narrating side of a narration lesson. Skipping the practice of pronouncing the words and finding their meanings will prevent students from being able to fully connect to the reading and to later express their thoughts with order and composure when narrating. If the map work, reviews and background and historical context are not included, then students again miss an opportunity to connect the new knowledge to old knowledge, weaving the knowledge together more tightly. They cannot fit this smaller scheme of knowledge into the larger framework already built into their mind. The narration will then have to exclude new words and locations, because they are still unfamiliar. The narrations will also lack a display of the interconnectedness between known knowledge and new knowledge.

The student is being affected by the environment surrounding the reading.


  • Children respond differently to different situations. Some children will need a great deal of quietness in their environment when trying to concentrate, listen and reflect on reading and learning and other children will not have trouble with the latter actions amidst noise, interruption and distraction. Be sure that you are meeting each child's own particular needs in this area. Anxiety can lead to frustration and frustration, in turn, can lead to intense dislike. Your student may not necessarily be disliking narration, but instead feels frustrated and anxious by the environment in which he/she must give one. It is possible that listening to a reading or trying to read independently under these conditions may not be conducive to a feeling of peace and confidence for this particular child.

The Narrating Side of the Issue

The student is shy or reserved in self-expression.


  • Again, because all children are different, they will respond differently to different situations. Some children are naturally shy and less comfortable with expressing themselves. Narration holds the expectation that students should share aloud their thoughts about a reading, especially when giving an oral narration. For a child who feels reserved about this aspect of narrating, feel free to alter them as often as necessary. This child may choose to draw or paint a picture, create a map, write a narration, give their narration to a special plush toy, privately in another room or in other types or forms. Perhaps this child could be allowed to share only in private or to share only a portion of their narration. In the latter example, the child might go somewhere private and say the narration quietly to himself. Once finished, he then might share a much smaller part of it to the teacher, in private. These are just examples, so please feel free to adapt the environment as needed for your child. Perhaps this child may need to feel as if she is not "giving a speech" and instead allow the narrations to flow more naturally. This child could tell another family member about what they found most interesting, could call another family member and describe the picture she just drew or could share about their favorite character while the family is gathered for a meal.

The student is not shy but still dislikes giving oral narrations.


  • Perhaps your student is not shy but still dislikes narrating. It may be possible that he feels that by narrating he is sharing or exposing too much of himself. Giving a narration after a reading is, when done properly, highly personal. It is meant to be. This is what happens when a connection is made. Offer this student, just as the one who is shy, alternatives to oral narrations. Sometimes sharing is easier when given in writing or art or in other forms. It may be important for this particular student to really understand why you ask for a narration.

Students may struggle with their memory of a reading or in expressing their thoughts in an organized manner.


  • These students may have trouble remembering what happened or in what order the events happened; they may feel unable to start a narration. Firstly, the importance of preparing the reading is underscored in this issue. Students who cannot keep the main plot events in order do not need to be more impeded by also sorting through unknown words, places and the reading's historical framework. Once the reading is prepared, offer students a short selection of the reading material, keeping these students from having too much to keep in order. Next, allow students to refer to the chart of proper nouns. The key words of people, places and other proper nouns are included in this chart. They may refer to the chart while narrating to better supply them with the new word for which they are looking. The proper nouns charts are meant to be given and seen by the students, but you may prefer to transfer the words, as selected by you, to a board. Allow your students to narrate one smaller section of the reduced reading at a time, adding key word sentences to a board as you continue. Once the reduced reading section is complete, allow students a chance to narrate again, referring to their own key word sentences. If your students are reluctant to orally narrate the whole narration over again, then they may wish to copy their list from the board and write a narration. A younger student might prefer to share the narration with a different family member later in the day, breaking away from the activity for the time being.

  • If needed, you may also wish to create lessons which specifically target these skills. Print two copies of an Aesop fable or paragraph from an exciting story greatly enlarged and cut one into strips by sentence. Have your student read it and then sort out the story strips, arranging them in order. There are many other activity ideas to target this skill and may require a separate post for this issue.

The student struggles to visualize during the reading, cannot connect to the reading and cannot turn it around into her own words.


  • Visualizing or using your imagination while reading or listening to a reading can be more natural for some children over others. This will also vary according to other factors, including how new to this a child might be. A younger child or an older student transitioning to this new teaching method may need some individual practice with this skill, just as the child above tries to work on his ability to arrange his thoughts into order. Again, please break the reading section into a smaller selection, because working with an overwhelming amount of material through which to sort provides no relief for a child already struggling with other aspects of it. Offer a choice of types of narration, giving students the opportunity to choose their strongest manner of self-expression. Even if your student chooses the same manner of narrating for a lengthy time period, allow this child a chance to become comfortable before encouraging new types of narration prompts.

  • You may wish to have your students close their eyes while listening, or, if reading the section independently, read a scene and close their eyes and reflect on it and continue this throughout the reading section, to build and strengthen the ability to visualize and imagine. These students may do better with artistic and creative style narrations. Ask this child to describe, explain or share his thoughts about this narration and perhaps, to further build this skill, encourage him to share his thoughts and feelings about any of his creations. This will provide opportunities for students to practice turning something imagined or visualized, one form of self-expression, into a verbal form of self-expression.

The student is being affected by the environment surrounding her while narrating.


  • Similar to the child who is affected by the environment while listening to a reading, some children may be affected by this same type of environment while narrating. Some children may prefer quiet privacy, while others may actually prefer more activity, noise and an audience while narrating, perhaps either feeling less on display with background activity or enjoying the audience. Find out what conditions work best for each child, individually, and then make a few notes as a reminder for future narrations.

The narration prompts are too constrictive.


  • Purposely offering multiple and varied narration suggestions, as is provided in this curriculum, gives parents the tools they need to offer students with as many options as possible to express their own personal connections to the reading. Each child will connect with the reading material differently, so having multiple suggestions ensures a better chance that the child will be able to find one that allows for his own particular connection to be expressed in his narration. If the narration prompts are too constrictive, then the child may not be able to narrate or may feel frustrated with his inability to express his thoughts in the direction he wished to take them. Children who constantly feel limited in expressing themselves through narration may grow to dislike them. Be flexible with narration requirements. Skill building is important, so some direction may need to be required, but allow your child's input into as much of their narration work as can be done without harming larger goals and skill building.

The narration response prompts have become too repetitive.

  • A child who feels bored or frustrated with the repetitiveness of giving narrations can be helped by altering the type of narrations she gives. She may respond better to being allowed a choice from a selection of prompts to better allow her to express herself with that which connects to her personally. The variety in narration choices is not only to provide options to meet the needs of all types of students, but also to allow children to express themselves in many ways throughout a day, a week and a year. Growth verbally, organizationally, logically and creatively, as well as strength gained in skills in these same areas, is a great reason to encourage your children to vary narrations.

Remember, combining solutions might be necessary for combined issues.

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